October 23, 2013

Gaurishwara Temple, Yelandur

( This article was published in the Deccan Herald - Spectrum dated 22-October-2013 )

At a distance of 30kms from Thirumakoodalu Narasipura(popularly known as TNarasipura) lies the town of Yelandur that falls under the Chamarajanagar district. The road from TNarasipura was patchy at a few places and we had to literally slow down to a bullock cart’s pace in order to save the chasis and the shock absorbers of our car. The only saving grace was the lush and green fields on either sides, and soon hit the town of Yelandur. I  had expected this town to be a tiny village sporting a few houses and an old temple ensconced in some corner with an equally patchy road. But I was presented to a thrawling town with a reasonably big bus terminus and pretty vibrant crowd, and that too, early in the morning.

The Gazetteer of Mysore records that the fertile black soil so valuable here that there was not a single acre of uncultivated land, excepting on the hills. In “Mysore and Coorg”  By Benjamin Lewis Rice notes that ‘Yelandur appears to have been the seat of a wealthy principality at the time of the Vijayanagara sovereignty’ which is reinforced by the factor that the region was irrigated by the river Suvarnavati and the rich and fertile soil made agriculture extremely profitable. The hills also contributed to the wealth of the region as they were the home to many valuable trees like sandal, teak etc. But now Yelandur looked like any other small town.

In the present day, roads in Yelandur are narrow but are paved well and just as we crossed a corner, did we notice a small campus with some old structures jutting out a few feet below the road level. One could have easily missed this as there are no signboards or any other clear landmark. The campus houses the Gaurishwara Temple that is one of the few landmarks in this little town. The temple is dangerously close to a corner and any heavy vehicle with failed breaks can easily crash on it and destroy this symbol of our history.

A beautifully carved mantapa, Mahadwara, is presented as soon as one enters via the small(and only) gate into the campus. The temple and the mahadwara face east. Beautiful rings made of stone(with no joins) hang on corners, and hence this mantapa was called as ‘bale-mantapa’(bale in Kannada means bangles). Figures of Vali, Sugriva, Naramsimha swamy adorn the pillars of this mantapa while highly intricate carvings of Andhakasura vadha, Dakshinamurthy, Kalinga-mardana, Shiva, and other gods occupy the exteriors. Lord Shiva wearing slippers with heals and sporting his hair loose, being overlooked by kirthimukha is just too beautiful to be ignored. There is also a motif of a monkey drinking from a coconut.

The majestic mahadwara sets the expectations of an even greater and impressive temple inside the premises, which is only shattered as we step past it. Two temples, without any gopurams, stand surrounded by trees inside the campus. The architecture of these two temples are totally different from the bale-mantapa. Though the bale-mantapa seems to have been inspired by the Hoysala architecture, as can be seen by the running friezes on the exterior walls, the temples sport a distinct Vijayanagara architecture, as can be seen by its simple pillars and lack of any ornamentation. The sanctum-sanctorum is guarded by a wooden door, while the hall outside lacks any walls and is open from all three sides.

On the South side of the campus, a stone with inscriptions in hale-kannada stands in a small pit covered by a small structure. A Nandi, which seems to have been recently painted, sits on top of this structure. It is believed that this temple was constructured by a prince called Singadepa(who was also known as Devabhupala) in 1550AD. They belonged to the Hadinadu dynasty(also known as Padinadu) and were the feaudatories of the Vijayanagara dynasty. The beautiful entrance, known as bale-mantapa, was erected in 1654-55 by  his great grandson Mudduraja(also known as Muddhabhupa).

In December 1807, Yelandur was gifted (as Hereditary Freehold or inam)  to Dewan Purnaiyya for his ‘extraordinary’ services rendered to the Mysore Kingdom. A building, whitewashed in yellow paint, stands at the backside of the temple. This is probably the only highrise in the town and is the bungalow of Dewan Purnaiyya. Yelandur is strategically placed near Coimbatore and Mysore, and with natural riches during its hey days, it is believed that it was an obvious choice for Purnaiyya as he could be close to the Wodeyars of Mysore from here. Restoration and some renovation work was in progress during our visit and hence we couldn’t enter the bungalow.

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